MXA RETRO TEST: WE RIDE JEREMY McGRATH’S 1999 YAMAHA YZ250
We get misty-eyed sometimes thinking about past bikes we loved, as well as ones that should remain forgotten. We take you on a trip down memory lane with bike tests that got filed away and disregarded in the MXA archives. We reminisce on a piece of moto history that has been resurrected. Here is our test of Jeremy McGrath’s championship-winning 1999 Chaparral Yamaha YZ250 from 1999.
What McGrath doesn’t know won’t hurt him, right? Okay, let’s get it out into the open before anyone else does it for us. We crashed Jeremy McGrath’s Supercross Championship-winning YZ250 when he wasn’t around. We ripped the left radiator shroud off, scratched up the front fender and put a huge dent in our egos. Jeremy, we are truly sorry. But, face it, you aren’t using the bike during the 250 Nationals, so it’s not like we put you behind the bubble or anything. Besides, those works radiators aren’t that expensive, are they?
So, what was it like to ride Jeremy McGrath’s Yamaha YZ250 pre-crash? Do you want us to tell you what it was like on a track with bumps or without? Without the bumps, McGrath’s bike was the best 250 we’ve ever ridden‚ bar none. It has everything we could ever want. Once we switched to a rougher track, though, we wished for two things: (1) To be back on the smooth track. (2) To be on a track with much larger bumps and jumps. Why? Jeremy’s Supercross fork setup is stiff—very stiff. It is not an outdoor setting by any stretch of the imagination.
McGRATH’S BIKE AS IT SITS
What makes a works bike work? Works parts! A quick walk around McGrath’s bike reveals more trick parts than you can shake a stick at, starting with the Nissin front master cylinder, oversized caliper, floating brake rotor, billet aluminum triple clamps, works KYB forks, billet clutch perch, super-hot ignition, titanium bolts, magnesium hubs, titanium subframe, one-off Bridgestone tires, Afam supersized rear sprocket, KYB shock, magnesium kickstarter hub and ending with all the stuff inside the engine that Team Yamaha declined to show us.
SITTING ON McGRATH’S BIKE
McGrath is a traditional kind of guy. Superstardom hasn’t changed his bar and lever position a bit. How do we know? We’ve known Jeremy since he was a kid. (In fact, Jeremy was an MXA test rider before he hit the big time). His basic position is the same as it was back in 1991. We wish more riders would stay traditional. McGrath runs his bars in the middle of the clamps, his levers straight out and his grip of choice is Renthal’s soft half-waffle. His shifter is in the stock position, and his rear brake pedal is level with the footpeg.
Is there anything on Jeremy’s factory Yamaha that the production bikes should have? Yes. We wish everyone could try his footpegs. “Platforms” doesn’t quite describe them well enough. Made out of titanium, these footpegs can best be described as perfect. The right size, the right material and the right traction. If only they’d come on stock YZs. The final McGrath special addition is a seat that’s smooth on top and grippy on the sides. To tell the truth, it’s the opposite of what most seat companies sell, but it may be that they are all wrong.
TAKING McGRATH’S BIKE FOR A RIDE
Ever ride a bike with a steering damper? That’s what it’s like to ride Jeremy McGrath’s bike. Jeremy has his steering head bearings so tight that the bars barely move from side to side. For McGrath’s rear-wheel riding style, this isn’t such a big deal. But for people who steer with the front wheel, this sticky feel takes some serious getting used to.
If you want a bike with an amazing engine, this is the bike for you. McGrath’s engine is strong and pleasant. No violent hit, just nonstop power. Go into any berm and the engine will pull you out without the slightest hesitation. Catching gears is the quickest way to get up to speed. The engine will rev, but it’s not the best way to use a powerband that does its best work below the red line.
If you haven’t seen McGrath spin his easy-adjust clutch, then you haven’t been to a race in the last five years. Jeremy hammers his clutch—hard. We tried to fry it but couldn’t make a dent in the plates. Jeremy can do more damage in three corners than the average person could do in three months.
We did have one problem with Jeremy’s bike. We couldn’t turn the gas petcock on. In search of the lightest possible YZ250, and to eliminate any chance of the gas accidentally being turned off by Jeremy’s leg, Team Yamaha cut the petcock lever off. This would be a little frustrating for the average motocrosser, but, to tell the truth, McGrath doesn’t turn his own gas on. That’s his mechanic’s job.
McGRATH’S BIKE ON HITTING BUMPS
We tested Jeremy’s Supercross bike. That is what we asked for, and that is what we got. It was built to withstand the rigors of stadium whoops, triples, doubles and tabletops—not to mention short straights and slow corners. On the day we spent riding Jeremy’s bike, Glen Helen raceway was rough. Very rough. But it was safe to say that it didn’t make much of an impression on Jeremy’s forks.
If this were a production bike, we’d have to say that the forks were broken. Not so. According to Yamaha’s resident suspension guru, John R., Jeremy McGrath runs the stiffest valving setup of all the Yamaha factory riders, so there was no chance in the world that McGrath’s fork would be compliant under Glen Helen’s conditions. Paradoxically, Jon R. says that Jeremy runs the softest outdoor fork settings of the Yamaha bunch. We could have asked to ride Jeremy’s outdoor bike, but since he only rode it at one race, we felt that his Supercross bike would be more apropos.
In stark contrast to the rigidness of McGrath’s front forks was his plush rear shock. It could be considered soft. Using a works rear linkage, McGrath’s rear shock handles big hits with ease as well as small acceleration bumps coming out of turns. The only flaw the rear suspension has is that it isn’t on the stock YZ.
McGRATH’S BIKE ON CRASHING
Motocross bikes crash no matter how careful the rider is (even Jeremy crashes). So, how a bike handles a crash is very important. If the levers or handlebars bend easily, a moto could be over after a minor incident. Thanks to solid billet triple clamps, Renthal DoubleWall handlebars and forged levers, McGrath’s controls didn’t bend at all in our crash. We did, however, bend McGrath’s right radiator—not to the point of failure, but probably enough that Team Yamaha would have to change it between motos just in case.
WHAT DID WE REALLY THINK?
Yamaha provides McGrath with a YZ250 that is more than capable of winning a Supercross Championship, and McGrath brings to Yamaha a seasoned Champion more than capable of making it happen. So, it’s not a surprise that McGrath won his sixth Supercross Championship in 1999. With forks that mere mortals couldn’t compress, McGrath’s YZ250 is the perfect combination of manageability and brute power.
JEREMY McGRATH’S 1999 YZ250 SPECS
Stock horsepower: 45
Cylinder/head: Std/YMUS Mod
Spark plug/gap: NGK B7EV 0.5
Premix oil/ratio: Yamalube R/40:1
Ignition black box: YMC
Exhaust valves: Std
Main jet: 380
Power jet: NO
Pipe: Pro Circuit
Muffler: Pro Circuit
Clutch basket: Hinson
Inner clutch hub: Hinson
Clutch plates: Std
Pressure plate: Hinson
Outer clutch cover: DSP
Gearbox oil: Yamalube
Water pump impeller cover: Std
Fork oil: Yamaha
Fork compression setting: 10
Fork rebound setting: 11
Fork spring rate: N/A
Triple clamps: YMUS
Shock oil: Yamaha
Shock High-speed compression setting: 14
Shock Low-speed compression setting: 12
Shock rebound setting: 8
Shock spring rate: N/A
Weight: 98 kg
Air box: Std
Air filter: Uni
Air/manifold boots: Std
Front sprocket: Afam
Rear Sprocket: Afam
Chain: D.I.D. ERT
Chain lube: Yamalube
Chain rollers: Std
Chain guide: Std with DSP Guard
Handlebar: Renthal McGrath
Bar-clamp position: Forward
Clutch lever: XT550
Throttle: Std with aluminum pipe
Grips: Renthal half-waffle soft
Footpegs: Wide titanium
Gas tank: Std
Fork guards: Mod Std
Rear master-cylinder guard: N/A
Motor mounts, linkage pivots & body bolts: Titanium
Glide plate: DSP
Front hub: YMC Magnesium
Front rim: Excel
Front tire: Bridgestone M77
Front tire pressure: 100 KPA
Front rim lock: Std
Rear hub: YMC Magnesium
Rear rim: Excel
Rear tire: Bridgestone M78
Rear tire pressure: 90 KPA
Rear rim lock: Std
Front brake lever: Nissin YMC
Front brake master cylinder: Nissin YMC
Front brake caliper: Nissin YMC
Front brake rotor: Floating 270mm
Front brake pads: Std
Rear brake lever: Std
Rear brake master cylinder: Std
Rear brake caliper: YMC
Rear brake rotor: Std
Rear brake pads: YMC